Filling the Seats: The Scoop on One-Act Plays for High School Theaters

CC Image by Nic McPhee
CC Image by Nic McPhee

Why Should Your High School Produce a One-Act Play?

There are a number of advantages to producing one-act plays for any theatre company, but they’re especially appealing to high school theatre troupes. Here are the top three reasons that your high school should consider producing a one-act play:

  1. Simplicity. This is probably the best thing about one-act plays – they are written with simplicity in mind. Minimal sets, limited technical demands, and clear and concise story telling are the key components of most one-act plays. These are all wonderful attributes for high schools that may have limited resources and less experienced actors and stagehands.
  2. There are many, many one-act plays that feature large casts. Large-cast plays are great for high school theatre troupes because there are lots of roles, and the action is spread amongst the entire company (rather than being carried by a few leads).
  3. One-act plays are great for competitions. There are a number of competitions for student actors. One-act plays make excellent entries if your theatre troupe is interested in these competitions!

The Top 10 Shorts in U.S. High School Theatres

For short plays, comedies always seem to be a hit! Here are the 10 most-produced one-act titles in U.S High School Theatres, as published by the Educational Theatre Association in their annual survey.

1. Check Please, by Jonathan Rand

2. The Actor’s Nightmare, by Christopher Durang

3. This is a Test, by Stephen Gregg

4. (tied) 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview, by Ian McWethy

4. (tied) It’s Not You, It’s Me, by Don Zolidis

6. How to Succeed in High School Without Really Trying, by Jonathan Rand

7. (tied) The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon, by Don Zolidis

7. (tied) Check Please: Take 2, by Jonathan Rand

7. (tied) Hard Candy, by Jonathan Rand

10. Sure Thing, by David Ives

CC Image by David Joyce
CC Image by David Joyce

More One-Act Plays to Consider

Of course, you may want to produce a one-act play for your high school theatre that isn’t on the Top 10 list. Here are a few more ideas:

  • The Audition, by Don Zolidis
  • Law & Order: Fairy Tale Unit, by Jonathan Rand
  • The Suessification of Romeo and Juliet, by Peter Bloedel
  • 15 Reasons Not to Be in a Play, by Alan Haehnel
  • Darcy’s Cinematic Life, by Christa Crewdson

4 Ways to Structure Your One-Act Evening

One-act plays can run anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour, so it’s important to consider how you’re going to structure your evening. When producing short plays it is very common to present a double- or triple-bill event with short breaks in between for quick set changes.

Your ideal evening length should be between 1.5 to 2 hours including the intermission; although this sounds like a short evening, the point of live performance is to entertain your audience. It’s far better to leave them wanting more than to have them feeling bored and restless!

CC Image by Andy Roberts
CC Image by Andy Roberts

One-Act Plays suggests four fantastic options for structuring your evening of shorts:

  1. Two plays at 30 to 50 minutes in length, with a 10 to 20 minute intermission.
  2. Three plays at 20 to 30 minutes in length, with two 10 to 15 minute intermissions.
  3. Two 10 to 15 minute plays separated by a very fast set change, followed by an intermission, and conclude the evening with one 30 to 45 minute play.
  4. A maximum of six 10-minute plays, each separated by a very fast set change and a 10 to 15 minute intermission after the third play.

Do you have a favorite short play for student actors? Tips and tricks for producing an evening of short plays? Let us know about them in the comments below!

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